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December 2018 Blog Archive

BREXIT - the real questions

Posted by Frank Preiss, on 20 December 2018. Comments: 0

This whole debate has been utterly misguided ever since the 2016 Referendum was announced. Instead of the deeply depressing and legalistic squabbling of the past 30 months, we should revisit the first referendum in 1975.

Despite claims to the contrary, the campaign then exposed and debated all the necessary compromises to sovereignty and national control we would have to accept and why. It did not occur to my generation that our decision would be conditional and we might change our minds later. It was a decision for a lifetime and we voted 67/33 to remain.

Since then the EEC has grown from 7 to 28 and a lot else has changed. It might have been reasonable after 40 years to review the 1975 decision if we could have had a serious national debate. But the 2016 referendum was a hideous aberration in which reasons for and against remaining in the EU were hardly discussed at all. Instead it focused on the grievances of various interest groups - fishermen, farmers, hospitality, business, politicians etc - that are mostly incompatible or not the responsibilty of the EU at all. It has divided the UK - nations, regions and families - for all the wrong reasons.

Remainers are partly to blame. We should have made our case, but we didn't. As a result I think the EU has been traduced and ignorantly misunderstood in the last two years of shameful mayhem and wishful thinking. But I also think Leavers, who alone are responsible for this mess, should have given us a much clearer account of their post-Brexit vision. Woolly concepts such as "control of our borders, money and laws" dissolve at every attempt to apply them to our recent history, let alone our possible future role in the world.

The idea that consulting the British people again would be in some way undemocratic is illogical and simply absurd. The best solution now would be for a strong Prime Minister to explain to the nation why Article 50 must be revoked immediately: the first priority must be to halt the truly horrendous damage already being done.

But we don't have a strong PM, nor any prospect of one. So let's consult the people with a new, straightforward repeat of the 1975 In/Out referendum, after enough time to reconsider without pressure the themes and arguments of that campaign. I can't imagine either side would make the mistake again of taking the result for granted. And surely both sides would accept a decisive majority, say not less than 60/40 either way, as reason to close the matter and hopefully heal the wounds?

Alternatively we could accept that referendums are not natural to the British constitution. Joining the EU was really a one-way decision, as important politically in its way as the extension of the franchise, which no one thought of reversing. We have a representative parliamentary democracy. Our MPs have been powerless and irresponsible so far. Let them now debate the real issues, then decide our future, on a free vote, as they decided our entry into the EU at the beginning.


A New Referendum - True Democracy

Posted by Frank Preiss, on 11 December 2018. Comments: 3

Where does the ridiculous argument come from that a new referendum would be a 'betrayal of democracy'?

Quite the contrary. Everyone who voted 'leave' in 2016 will be free to do so again. And if a majority voted 'leave' again that would settle the matter.

We Remainers think the 'vision' of the future offered by the most passionate Brexiteers is deeply flawed if not completely unrealisable. But if Leavers still think they are right what are they afraid of?

No version of our future, in or out of the EU, can give us complete control if our borders, our laws or our money. We will have to compromise on all three.

The question is therefore: do we prefer to negotiate trade deals with the US, China or India on our own, or as a strong and influential partner in the EU, which is of course preparing for, or has already started, those negotiations.

Much has changed since 2016, not least the electorate itself. Leavers take offence at the suggestion that they could have voted in ignorance. They shouldn't: we all voted more or less in ignorance of what the future might offer.

We Remainers did however know what we already had and where we were heading. The EU, for all its flaws, has a vision which, in a nutshell, tries to temper capitalism with humane treatment of all its citizens and their environment through cooperation and compromise.

The realities of any feasible Brexit future have become steadily clearer. It is no surprise tjat every recent poll now shows that a large majority of today's electorate want another vote.

How can that be undemocratic?

PS On a personal note, if not honouring the second referendum would be 'undemocratic' and a 'betrayal', then I already feel betrayed that we are debating Brexit at all. My generation voted 'in' in the first referendum, in 1975. which produced a real majority of 67% - 33%. We never imagined we would leave. We thought we were settling Britain's future for good.

What democratic right did David Cameron or Theresa May have to put that at risk in a vain attempt to unite their fractious followers? The EU is an ongoing task which does not conform to the short careers of ambitious politicians. No one else, Remainer or Leaver, wants to bring it down.


Brexit - a clear and present danger

Posted by Frank Preiss, on 3 December 2018. Comments: 0

One of the strongest future benefits promised by Brexiteers would be Britain's ability after leaving the EU customs union to make trade deals with the big and growing nations around the world: China, India, Japan, Brazil, Latin America, Australia and, the cherry in the cake, the United States.

Five points for today:

1) We already trade quite successfully with all those countries and regions. If we don't do more it's not because we are constricted by EU rules; Germany, France and even Italy do well under the same rules.

2) One of the poorly thought-through pipe dreams of the Brexiteers is that if Britain ever concludes comprehensive trade agreements with any of these countries we will 'take back control' of our money, our borders (immigration) or our laws. But all such deals involve collaboration and compromise in all three areas. That would be true of any version of Brexit, even trade under WTO rules.

3) The latest government position threatens that our present choice is between its - Mrs May's - deal, or the huge risks of no deal or no Brexit. But by a normal understanding of 'risk' Mrs May's deal and No Deal are huge risks: No Brexit is not. The British people know what it is like to live in the European Union. It's not perfect, though better than Leavers paint it. It's hard to find any risk if we Remain, keep what we have and contribute to the EU's continuing reform and development, as we have always done.

4) The latest economically terrifying 'scenarios' (not forecasts) from the Treasury and the Bank of England are attacked by Brexiteers on the grounds that they are based on the wider economic, financial and global conditions remaining stable. The implication is that these conditions will in fact change in Britain's favour if we are free to take advantage.

Just consider this: the EU is already negotiating its own trade deals with almost all the regions in question. Can anyone reasonably suggest that it will negotiate a more favourable agreement with the UK when we will, by then, be troublesome ex-members who have never believed in the central philosophy of the EU? Can we expect France, Germany, or Ireland to accept any longer than necessary London's dominance over the Euro, that we refused to join?

The truth is that Brexit in any form is based on a Trump-like 'Britain first' vision. Yet even if the British people wanted to live like that we no longer have the global power. There is evidence everywhere, in finance, industry and agriculture, that Brexit can only worsen the UK's position in the wider world.

5) The Brexiteers dismiss the 'expert' economists and authors of those economic scenarios on the grounds their 'forecasts' before the 2016 referendum proved wrong. But far from being wrong, the overall effect of the Referendum was very close to the more pessimistic scenarios at that time. Yes, unemployment did continue to fall, but the Pound also started falling immediately and has stayed down ever since, yet the trade balance has not improved. And from being the top of the EU growth league in 2015/16 while we were still reliable members, the UK is now at the bottom. Ask the British people if they have felt any better off in the past 30 months.

As more 'experts' in more areas of our economy do their sums, it has become obvious that, even under the Brexiteers' most optimistic assumptions, new trade after Brexit is likely to contribute much less than 1% to UK GDP, a fraction of what would be needed to repair the likely damage under the least pessimistic 'scenarios'.

The immense harm that the past two years have already done to the UK's standing in the world means we absolutely cannot afford the clear and present danger of Brexit in any form.


View our November 2018 blog archive »

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